Administration tries to finesse IS war powers authority bill

In developing language in the Islamic State war powers resolution that would satisfy both Republicans and Democrats, the administration is walking a verbal tightrope.

But The Hill reports that in their efforts to address the issue of ground troops, the White House may lose the support of Democrats who are wary of voting for another war.

The White House will ask Congress to approve military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that bans “enduring offensive ground operations.”

Administration officials briefed lawmakers on Tuesday about the emerging language, which is intended to win over Republicans.

GOP lawmakers had balked at earlier language considered by a Senate panel in December that banned ground troops in combat operations with some exceptions, such as self-defense and rescue missions.

What is unclear is whether Democrats wary of voting for a new war will withhold their support for the updated language, which even some Republicans acknowledge is vague.“It’d be interesting to know exactly what that ‘enduring’ means, but I have to see it,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has called for language that would allow ground troops in order to give the military maximum flexibility to go after ISIS.

One congressional aide familiar with the new language acknowledged it could be a difficult sell with Democrats.

“That’s the whole debate on flexibility … that is the rub,” the aide said. 

The White House briefed House Democratic leaders Tuesday evening, but rank-and-file members, including liberals critical of language approving ground forces, were keeping their powder dry as they awaited the final details.

The debate is being inflamed by ISIS’s recent actions. 

One week after the release of a video showing a Jordanian hostage being burned alive, ISIS sent photographs to the parents of U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller said to prove she had died in captivity. The photos were authenticated and deemed credible by the U.S. intelligence committee, a representative for the 26-year-old’s family told The New York Times.

I think we all want to know what "enduring offensive ground operations means." Granting the president flexibility is one thing. Allowing him - or his successor - to interpret that phrase in the broadest possible terms is an entirely different issue.

In addition to the debate over how specific the new AUMF should get about ground troops, there is also going to be a clash over whether there should be geographical restirctions and a a sunset provision. Congress will probably support some kind of time limit for the AUMF - three years is a figure being tossed around - but congressional hawks want no restrictions on geography. That could prove a problem for liberals who think Congress should limit the size and scope of the operation.

There is also language in the draft that would prevent US troops from engaging in combat with Syrian troops loyal to President Assad. I guess we've come full circle now on Syria. Where once we demanded Assad leave power, we are now talking out of both sides of our mouths when we have begun training anti-Assad rebels while informing the Syrian dictator in advance of our air strikes on Syrian territory.

And if you can discern a coherent policy out of that hash, you win a cookie.


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